Alder Woodwasp – Reviews


“The Alder Woodwasp and its Insect Enemies”

Alder woodwasp

Latest Alder Woodwasp review : John LaSalle
(Principal Research Scientist, Hymenoptera Systematics,
CSIRO Entomology, Canberra Australia)

“This is a fascinating movie that details the biology of the alder woodwasp and its natural enemy complex.  It will immediately appeal to anyone interested in parasitoids, and will provide an invaluable tool for anyone teaching about parasitoids, general insect life histories, or even about how to do detailed biological studies.  One nice touch about this reissue is that the narration has been reworked from the original soundtrack to bring terminology up-to-date with recent advances in the field, so it will not be out of place in any modern teaching environment.

Two things most impressed me.  The first was the quality of the photography. Filmed several decades ago, at a time when English entomologists still wore neckties into the field, this film remains one of the finest pieces of macrophotography I have ever seen.  Various aspects about the woodwasp and four of its parasitoids are shown, including mating, host-searching, oviposition, larval and pupal development, and emergence.  A particularly nice piece of photography shows individual eggs being extruded from the tip of an ovipositor.

A second remarkable thing about this film is the biological detail.  This film presents an extraordinary account of the biology of the woodwasp and its parasitoids, and provides an excellent example, to both students and professionals, of the attention to detail that belongs in biological studies.  It also demonstrates a variety of aspects of parasitoid life histories, including: endoparasitism, ectoparasitism, cleptoparasitism; solitary and gregarious species; idiobiosis, and koinobiosis.

This video belongs in the libraries of any individual or establishment engaged in the study of parasitoids; or any program that wants to fully document insect life histories in general.”

“This is an extraordinary film and an excellent teaching tool.”

Extracts from Reviews of ‘The Alder Woodwasp and its Insect Enemies’


1. Scientific Film 1,6, April 1961, p. 24

“The shooting of this difficult subject is well up to the very best professional standards”

2. Film User 16, 183, Jan. 1962, p. 33.

“This is an amateur film that professionals in the same field have seldom equalled….it is strongly recommended for the upper forms in schools and for a wide range of adult audiences”.

3. Amateur Cine World Feb. 1961, p. 79 and 93

“A masterpiece….probably one of the finest natural history films ever made…The Alder Woodwasp and Its Insect Enemies is just what an instructional film should be – a work of art as well as a piece of exposition”.

4. AScW Journal 7, Sept. 1961, p. 8.

“I don’t think for one moment that either the BBC or the Council (for Nature) ever expected the winning entry to be of such a high technical or scientific standard”.

5. Quarterly Journal of Forestry 55,3, July 1961, p. 274

“This remarkable film ……..this film throws considerable light on the behaviour of those closely related woodwasps which are pests of coniferous timber and on the parasites which attack them. For this reason, apart from the interest and neatness of the story, foresters should seize the first opportunity to see this really outstanding film.”

6. Entomologists Monthly Magazine 97, Jan/Feb/March., 1961, p.1.

“Superb photographs in colour. The film abounds with details which only this medium can capture and it will intrigue not only the layman but the expert hymenopterist to whom many features of the life histories will be new, since they are as yet undescribed in literature.”

7. The Listener May 25, 1961, p. 940

“A remarkable film by any standards. In its close-ups of what goes on in tiny tunnels of alder, it is comparable with the work of Heinz Sielmann.”

The following is an extract written in 1981 by Sir David Attenborough in his foreword to the book ‘Focus on Nature’
(by Gerald Thompson and Oxford Scientific Films):

“Twenty years ago, an extraordinary image appeared on British television Screens. A female ichneumon wasp stepped elegantly along the branch of an alder tree. She was so large in the screen that every detail of her body was clearly visible -her orange, hair-thin legs, her mosaic eyes, the delicate venation of her gauzy wings. She moved with an unnerving deliberation, searching the bark by tapping it with her long antennae. Abruptly, she stopped and brought the tips of her antennae together on one particular spot. Raising herself on tip-toe, she hoisted her abdomen high in the air and brought forward the long black ovipositor that was hinged to the end of her abdomen, so that its shaft was almost vertical and its tip rested between her two antennae.

Then she began to drill.

This image itself was exceptional, but it was followed by a sequence that lifted the film to a quite new level of distinction. In the next slightly wider shot we saw that inside the alder branch, directly beneath the ichneumon’s drilling ovipositor, lay the grub of a woodwasp. And then we seemed to be alongside the grub itself, within its chamber and looking upwards, for we could see the tip of the ichneumon’s ovipositor breaking through the ceiling of the chamber. First she stung the grub, and then the ovipositor opened as the egg began to emerge. This she delicately placed on the body of the wasp grub so that the ichneumon grub, when it hatched, could eat the paralysed woodwasp alive.

The film went on to chronicle the other almost unimaginable hazards that beset a woodwasp….. this amazing film had been submitted for a competition run by the BBC and Council for Nature. Not surprisingly it had won first prize. Those of us who were ourselves trying to make films about animals realised immediately that it had set a new standard which few of us could aspire to and against which all of us could be measured…. the most remarkable thing about (Gerald Thompson) was that he had the imagination and sheer nerve to suppose that it was within the bounds of possibility to take such shots…..”

The following is an extract written in 1981 by Sir Peter Scott, C.B.E., D.S.C. in his foreword to the book Animals in Focus by P.S.Crowson – the book describes the business life of a Natural History Unit:

“From 1955 until 1969 the BBC ran a natural history television series called “Look”, which was introduced by me. One day in 1959 an entomologist (Gerald Thompson) came to see me at Slimbridge with an astonishing story of hyper-parasitism. He showed me a number of superb stills photographs illustrating every detail of an extremely complex relationship which he had discovered….. less than a year later Gerald and Eric Skinner, his technical colleague, were back in my studio at Slimbridge showing me a film in which every aspect of the Alder Woodwasp and its parasites was covered. By any standards it was an amazing achievement…..”

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